With college health centers facing significant increases in the costs to provide health care services, as well as decreases in their funding sources, many health center administrators are having to think outside of the box for ways to extend budgets and maintain a high quality of care for their student patients. As a result, more college health center directors and their staffs are turning to commercial insurance plans.
"Health centers at many public institutions used to get 100 percent of their funding from the state, but times are changing," said Jennifer Lepus, director of university health services for the University of Maryland - Baltimore County.
The UM-BC student health center is one of hundreds nationally that have struggled with state budget cutbacks. Health centers at impacted schools may still receive some funding by offering student health insurance plans, but reimbursements from those plans - which are provided by a handful of companies that contract with colleges to offer exclusive group rated coverage to students - are typically not enough to support a health center budget.
"Our difficulty in offering only a group rated insurance program was that voluntary enrollment was not enough to sustain it," said Western Kentucky University's Health Services Director Libby Greaney. "So, WKU's solution has been to accept commercial insurance plans, and file those claims.
WKU began billing insurance companies in 2001, after student health fees were cut the previous year.
"If your doctors are board-certified and credentialed, they can establish themselves as primary care physicians. This enables you to see community patients who are in-network with the plans that your health center accepts. If balanced properly, you can increase your service net and your revenue streams."
According to Greaney, more and more schools are realizing the benefits of opening their health centers up to commercial plans, and taking a similar approach to WKU's.
"People are beginning to see the need. They are talking about it and addressing it," she said. "Those in college health who are resistant to the idea may be viewed as 'old school' if they do not embrace the concept."
"More and more senior vice presidents at colleges are hearing about this approach, and are giving the directive to their health centers. I would encourage health center staff to be more in the driver's seat."